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Status of Muslim Societies around the World

Dr. M. I. H. Farooqi, Gen. Secretary, Urdu Scientific Society,
(Retd.  Scientist (Deputy Director), National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow)
Address: C / 3-2 Shahid Apartments, Golaganj, Lucknow - 226 018
Tel. : 0522-2610683 Email:

There was a time when Islamic Civilization was considered to be the most advanced, tolerant and progressive Civilization in the world. This was mainly because of their accomplishments in practically all the disciplines of knowledge. After 16th century AD, the situation changed drastically. Learning and inquiry was no more the motto of the Muslims with the result that today they occupy the lowest position in the ladder of the world. They are educationally backward, scientifically marginal, politically insignificant and economically poor. This is the present status of the entire Ummah amongst the comity of nations.

Some years back, a well-known economist, Dr Kenneth David, presented World Bank Survey of 1980, on the educational and economic status of religious societies of the world in his book entitled “The Cultural Environment of International Business”. UNDP in 1996 also presented an exhaustive status report of UN Member counties. Since then Human Development Index reports are being issued every year for about one hundred and seventy countries. These important documents are highly revealing since they   describe living conditions of all the religious societies i.e. Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, tribal religions and Muslims as well as non-religious communist society. According to these studies, Christian society is the most advanced society of the world with regard to education, health and economic wealth whereas Muslim society is the most backward on these counts. Based on the reports by David and UNDP, disparities of the status of Muslim and Christian societies are being given in the present paper.

According to Kenneth David, literacy of Christian world in 1980 was on an average 90% and about 15 countries had a literacy of 100%. On the other hand, average literacy in the Muslim countries was less than 40% and none had 100% literacy. More or less the same situation continued afterwards and in 2001 UNDP reported an average of 60 percent literacy in Islamic countries and between 95 to 100% in the Western nations of Christians. Among the literates of the Christian world, hardly 2% of the population did not complete school education whereas 50% of the so-called literates of the Muslim societies never attended modern schools. In the Christian society literacy implies education of at least primary level whereas in Muslim society a person who could read and write is considered to be literate. If the criterion of the Christian world is taken into account then hardly 10% population of the Muslim countries can claim to be literate. The importance of education in the Christian countries can be judged by the fact that around 40% get higher education including specialization in various disciplines of science. This is less than 2% in Muslim countries. Even the standard of higher education of the meagre 2% is lower in Muslim countries when compared with the Christian world. As a matter of fact, many of the highly educated Muslims get specialized knowledge of science, engineering and medicine in the Christian West. This is in contrast with the situation prevailing during Middle Ages when Christians used to travel to Muslim Spain for getting higher education in medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy etc.

Education is directly related with the economy of any society; higher the education, better the economic growth. According to Kenneth half of the Muslim population (about 1.3billion), had the per capita GDP of $ 200, whereas very few Muslim countries including oil-producing nations had the per capita income of $1000 or more. As compared to this, more than half of the Christian population had an income (per capita GDP) of $7000, and the average was around $3000.This was all about the status of the Muslim and the Christian world in 80’s. After 1980, world’s economic order was raised to great heights. According to UNDP report of 1999, economy of European countries advanced to the extent that their per capita income was raised to about $ 25,000 and the rest of the Christian countries saw a rise up to $10,000. In comparison with this rise of economic status of the western countries, Muslim countries lagged far behind and their average per capita GDP advanced to hardly a thousand dollars. Only few oil producing countries could manage an average per capita GNP of $5000 or more. But they constitute hardly ten per cent of the entire Muslim population. It may be stated here that as per the report in OIL AND GAS GENERAL (1998), out of 18 oil-producing countries, 10 are Muslim nations, producing 40% of the world’s total petrol production. In spite of this God’s gift, Muslim society is economically much weaker than the Christian society

The reports suggest that after 1980 Muslim countries could not compete with the western world in the field of economic growth. The main reason for this unfortunate situation was their rivalries amongst themselves resulting in very high expenditure on their respective defence budgets. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s per capita income in 1980 was $ 7,690, which dropped to $ 7,040 in 1996 mainly because of the Iraq-Kuwait conflict. Likewise, income of Iran, Iraq and Libya (all oil producing countries) also dropped considerably. As against this dismal position, per capita income of Germany advanced from  $9,580 in 1980 to $      28,870 in 1996. Per capita incomes of Britain, France and Australia etc similarly improved tremendously.

After the Second World War, almost all the countries of the world have been busy in increasing their military capabilities. Muslim nations, inspite of the poverty of their people are also involved in this mad race for military might. They have large trained armies, which are estimated to be 100million. This is one third of the total world armed forces. After the Second World War, there has not been any major Christian-Muslim armed conflict, except the recent Iraq and Afghanistan crises but there have been several bloody wars amongst Muslim nations themselves in which millions have lost their lives.

Muslim nations spend 10-30% of their GDP towards purchasing sophisticated and deadly arms and ammunitions from the West. On the other hand, western nations spend about 10% of their wealth on their arms procurement, which is carried out within the Christian world.

According to Kenneth, there are several factors for the backwardness of the Muslim society. First and foremost is their illiteracy in general and women illiteracy in particular. Another major reason of Muslim fall is the fact that hardly 16% of population is involved in industrial production. It is important to note that 60% of Christian population is engaged in industry. High population growth is another major factor for Muslim backwardness because this rapid population rise neutralizes whatever economic development takes place in Muslim Societies. Human Development Index prepared by UNDP gives a very dismal picture of the status of literacy, health and economy of Muslim nations. In the first 25 best countries listed under HDI (2002), no Muslim country figured in the list. Barring few small oil producing Muslim nations, majority of the Islamic world lies in the middle and low categories of human development, a clear indication that the Islamic nations needs to increase their focus on human development. Latest data (2002) about the Human Development Index (HDI) and Per capita GDP of some of the important and large populated Muslim countries are as follows;

                          HDI             Income
                                         (Per Capita)

Indonesia:       112                    850$
(Population 210 M)        

Bangladesh:                              139                    350$
(150 M)      

Pakistan,         144                    500$
(1300 M)

India                 127                    500$
(I Billion, Muslims, 140 M)

Egypt:               120                  1200$
(70 M)

Turkey               96                  2700$
(65 M)                  

Iran                   106                 $1,600
(70 M)

S. Arabia            73                 $9,000
(22 M)               

Malaysia            58                 $4,000
(25 M)

Sudan              138                    $450
(30 M)

Nigeria             152                    $350
(120 M)

Libya                  61                 $7,000
(6 M)                      

Morocco          126                 $1,300
(30 M)

Afghanistan    145                    $300
(24 M)             

Iraq                     74                 $5,500
(2.5 M)

Tunisia              91                 $2,000
(10 M)

Syria                 110                 $1,300
(15 M) 

Algeria               73                $1,700
(30 M)

It may be stated that the few Muslim countries, which do figure between 25 to 50 HDI, are Brunei, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.  Their per capita GDP is also comparatively higher i.e. between 10,000 to 15,000 dollars but combined population of all these Muslim countries is hardly 30 millions. One must bear in mind that total GDP of all the Arab oil producing counties (12 in numbers) is less than the GDP of Spain alone. Ironically Muslim Spain during Middle Ages had higher revenue (because of the industrial products like Textile, Paper, mineral etc) than the whole of the Christian Europe (eleventh Century AD). Today Germany alone has a GDP of 3 thousand Billion Dollars that is almost twice of the entire Muslim World. Per capita GDP of major Christian countries is also staggering. A few examples with higher Human Development Index (HDI) and per capita incomes are as below:

                          HDI             Income
                                         (Per Capita)

USA                      7               37,000$

Germany           18               25,000$

UK                       13               $25,000

France,              17               $25,000

Canada                8               $26,000

Italy                    21               $20,000

Spain                  19               $17,000

Netherlands       5               $26,000

Denmark           11               $31,000

Austria              16                $25,000

Sweden,             3                $26,000

Switzerland      10               $41,000

Norway                1               $40,000

Belgium               6               $24,000

Russia               63                  $2,400

 Scientific achievement of the Muslim society  cannot be considered to be of any consequence. Out of the total of 2,60,000 articles published every year on scientific research, hardly 2,500 i.e. about 1% are published in Muslim countries. One can be reminded that during Middle Ages the situation was entirely different. According to European authors of History of Science almost ninety percent of scientific literature during Middle Ages was published (in Arabic) by Muslims of Spain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran etc.

There are many other parameters, which show the backwardness of Muslim Societies in scientific field. For instance, total number of Science Ph.D.’s produced by about 450 Universities of Muslim Countries every year is less than 500, whereas in UK alone this number is 3000. According to one estimate total strength of Engineers and Scientist in Muslim world (1.30billion) is less than the scientists and engineers working in France alone  (population 60million).

Well known Islamic thinker Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, once said while addressing Muslims at a Seminar,   “ “You have spent several nights of indifference (Urdu-ghaflat) and complacency (Urdu-sarshari). For God’s sake, get up now and see how much the sun has risen and how far your co-travelers (non-Muslims) have gone ahead of you”.In the same seminar Maulana also said, ‘”after 16th Century, the situation of knowledge (Scientific) in Muslim and Christian societies changed completely. Now Christians started following Muslims way of progressive thinking and enquiry whereas Muslims copied Christian’s way of life of Middle Ages that was full of superstition, bigotry and retrograde thoughts”.

Maulana Rabey Hasan Nadvi, Rector of Nadva Islamic  University, Lucknow, also once wrote,  “Europe (West) became the leader of the world by working hard and following the path of scientific pursuit. On the other hand we (the Muslims) became indifferent towards knowledge and lost leadership of the nations”.

According to Kenneth, practically every society of the world put hindrances (in the name of religion) in scientific development during 19th and 20th Century. Buddhists Priests opposed fast changing social order. Conflicts between Catholics and Protestants were the causes for slowing development in Europe. Caste differences among Hindus were reflected in the slow growth of their society. Sectarian hatred and too much interference of religious leaders (clerics) put difficulties in proper development of Muslims nations. In this regards David Kenneth says ‘the way of life (standard of living) in Muslim countries cannot be altered unless the priests (Ulema) are favourable to proposed changes.”

Kenneth further elaborates that Muslim Ulema , generally ignorant of the rapid development of Science and technology in  Western Nations and their high standard of living, consider the poor economic condition of the Ummah (Muslim society) to be the Divine Will. This is definitely unIslamic way of thinking. It was in this context that prominent Islamic scholars, like Afghani and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, remarked, “Ulema ignorant of modern knowledge can not serve the Ummah”. Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Founder Member of Rabita al-alam al-Islami (Muslim World League), also expressed his anguish over Muslim’s indifference towards modern knowledge by saying, “Muslims forgot their own scientific way of thinking and followed only traditional knowledge. They therefore lagged behind in Science and Technology and thus became slaves of the scientifically advanced West”. Mahathir Mohammad, Prime Minister of Malaysia also declared during the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur recently that, “ it is necessary for Muslims to give up their illogical beliefs and regressing thoughts and be prepared to face the challenges of the fast changing social order.” He also cautioned, (at a meeting in London) “.our present  predicament is not pre-ordained by Allah.It is entirely due to our own doing. We rely merely on praying to Allah for help when Allah has said in the Quran that we have to help ourselves before He will help us. To ward off attacks on us, we must learn science and technology and consider acquiring modern knowledge as the part of  ibadah” If the Muslim Societies around the world do not heed the advice of Mahathir, they are then doomed. Long back Philosopher- Poet Iqbal had rightly said ‘ “Teri barbadiyon ke mashware hain aasmanon mein” (There are clear indications (planning) in the sky of your fall from grace’. (If you do not realize the importance of necessary change)

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